Saturday, March 26, 2011

INGREDIENTS - Torresmo

The ice-cold beer and salty-snack bar culture of Brazil is an important part of that nation's food culture - something any tourist returning from Brazil can tell you, and something that faithful readers of this blog have heard before in a number of posts. Whether the bar be a few rustic tables covered by a palm-thatched roof on a deserted beach in Brazil's northeast, or a concept-laden ultra-chic lounge in Leblon or Jardins, there will be plenty of sub-zero lager beer and crunchy snacks with a high levels of sodium and fat. It's inevitable and unavoidable (even if one might want to avoid it). When Brazilians go to a bar most of them want beer to drink, and most of those beer drinkers want to wash their beer down with something crunchy, fatty and salty.

This combination isn't something the Brazilians invented, or something unique to Brazil. As one of my oldest friends philosophized way back in our university days, at the end of a long afternoon sitting at a bar in Burlington, Washington, contemplating the the free popcorn in front of him, "Where there's beer, there's salt." Absolutely true. Popcorn, unshelled peanuts, potato chips, nachos, fries, onion rings - they all fit the bill.

In Brazil, and particularly in the state of Minas Gerais, the most common bar snack is likely to be something called torresmo. Torresmo is the Portuguese word for pork skin that has been fried at high temperature to melt away the fat, then salted and dried. In other words - at least American words - pork rinds. I say American words because in the UK they're generally known as cracklings or scratchings. This snack, in fact, seems to have a huge number of colorful regional names. In Newfoundland they have a lovely onomatopoeic word for them - scrunchions. In Quebec they've been baptized, colloquially, as oreilles de chrisse - Christ's ears. In Mexico and the US Southwest they're called chicharrón. And in case you'd been wondering, the Hungarians known them as either tepertő or töpörtyű . Personally, when in Budapest, I always call them töpörtyű  - wouldn't you?

Torresmo is part of the Portuguese contribution to Brazilian food culture, with a few seasoning touches contributed by African slaves. Originally, pork skin and the fatty subcutaneous layer beneath it were cooked to melt the fat and obtain lard - the only way that this cooking fat could be obtained. Somewhere, sometime a clever devil decided to sample the crunchy bits of pork skin that remained once the fat had been drained off - probably with a salt shaker in his or her hand - and the torresmo, the crackling or the pork rind was born.

In Brazil, torresmo is primarily considered a snack to eat with drinks - most likely a beer or a shot of cachaça. In mineiro cooking (the cooking of the state of Minas Gerais) torresmo is an essential part of the panoply of dishes that all together constitute feijoada and it's also served with the bean and manioc dish feijão-tropeiro.

For those adventurous enough, or crazy enough to want to make their own torresmo at home, the next post here at Flavors of Brazil will provide a typical Brazilian recipe.

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